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Ten Books.

i don't know where i picked this up from, but it was somewhere on my friends list. it was what--a day, two ago? anyhow, there was a list of ten books that meant something or were influential, and this morning, i woke up thinking about that ten. so i figured it would make a faintly interesting post. other people should do it, too, either on their livejournal or in the response section of this post.

anyhow, here it is: ten books that mean something to me and in no particular order. and they could change tomorrow.

Book One: coming through slaughter, michael ondaatje.

ondaatje's novel is about the life of jazz player buddy bolden. pieced together like a documentary and filled with ondaatje's beautiful prose, it switches narratives styles throughout and gives the reader the image of new orleans as a dirty, jazz fueled town while managing to not sound cliched. admire it for its structure, for the lines that sound off the page, for the life in it... hell, i just love it.

i love it so much that i refuse to go to anything he might appear in.

Book Two: the wind-up bird chronicle, haruki murakami, translated by jay rubin.

i mention the translator because it's naive to think that he doesn't bring something to the book. indeed, i find translations of murakami's work not done by rubin to be... lesser? well, it's probably an unfair thing to say, because i find that none of murakami's work meets this huge, sprawling, metaphysical detective story that begins with an ordinary man, toru, looking for his cat. you could say that the narrative of the book works through toru linking up all the secondary characters narratives, and so it jumps from world war II (with one of the most chilling scenes i've read), to a woman called malta kano, and a host of others. in the background, toru and the young girl who live behind him begin a strange friendship, and he looks for his cat.

i would never meet murakami if i got the chance.

Book Three: the undertaking, thomas lynch.

lynch's book is a collection of essays, but he began as a poet, and he works as an undertaker. the two come together in this book to form beautifully written essays about being an undertaker. it's about death, and life, and the first essay, 'the undertaking', begins with, Every year I bury a couple hundred of my townspeople. Another two or three dozen I take to the crematory to be burned. I sell caskets, burial vaults, and urns for the ashes. I have a sideline in headstones and monuments. I do flowers on commission.

he then proceeds to tell you about death. how people die at any time of the day, in stupid ways, in funny ways, in cars, in hospital, in any way possible. the beauty of this book, however, is that lynch is not depressing while writing about this. he's compassionate, funny, and wise. the thing i took away from this collection of essays is not a thing easily articulated, and i'm not going to try.

Book Four: dragons of autumn twilight, margaret weis and tracy hickman.

i read this book when i was twelve. maybe i was thirteen or eleven, i don't quite remember, to be honest. is it a good book now? no idea. i have a child's view on the book (and indeed the series) and i'm not going back to read it. anyhow, this is the book that got me into speculative fiction, and is thus the book that is the result of me writing it. though not fantasy itself.

Book Five: the lankhmar series, fritz leiber.

it's either four books or two or one or a bunch of short stories, depending on who you are, and what books you have. i could probably go on and on, listing which stories of the mouser and fafhrd, the characters in the series, opened up little doors in relation to the way that fantasy could be written, and the simple way that leiber laid prose out on a page. my favourites are probably the novel the swords of lankhmar and the novella 'ill met in lankhmar', but singling them out leaves so many other stories behind...

Book Six: the satanic verses, salman rushie.

it's the book that sent the author into hiding because of religion, but to me, it's always been about multiculturalism.

i could talk about rushdie's singular voice. i could talk about the humour. i could talk about the images. indeed, they're all there. but it's the multiculturalism that does it for me, that lifts the book above rushdie's others, the majority of which are fantastic. (there is, sadly, not much to recommend in fury.)

Book Seven: pulp, charles bukowski.

it's a book dedicated to bad writing. it throws every pulp cliche into it, blends, and then pours it out in a stripped back, no frills style. it's funny and dirty and is without some of the disagreeable elements of bukowksi's work. it's strange that bukowski wrote this at the end of his life, that this was indeed his final work--it's a book that feels totally unlike him, and yet, totally like him. at any rate, i love it.

Book Eight: the amazing adventures of kavalier and clay, michael chabon.

comics, golems, and orson welles: this book has just about everything i like, worked through with an amazing style. it's densely layered, funny and tragic, and after reading it, i believed that all my friends should read it too. at the time there was a remaindered bookstore in the middle of sydney, and you could buy copies of the book for ten bucks. if i couldn't force people to walk in there and buy a copy, then i walked in there and bought one for them. in a strange twist of fate, it was xmas, and so everyone of my friends had the strange experience of receiving a xmas present from me, which doesn't happen all that much.

i've not found one person who was disappointed with the gift.

Book Nine: darkness at noon, arthur koestler, translated by daphne hardy.

is this one of the most beautifully translated books? i'm hard pressed to think of one outside it, and the book itself ends with the finest final line ever written. darkness at noon follows rubashov, an aging member of the party, as he is put in prison and broken down for a show trial in stalinist russia. rubashov is no saint, however, and the book itself (to me) is a mediation on the grey lines that one walks in politics and life, and the place of the individual within a fascist regime.

Book Then: 'one-way street', walter benjamin.

this final selection has caused me a bit of trouble. it's not a book, and there are books the poke at me to be mentioned. the simple fact, however, is that from time to time, i pick up my copy of the collected walter benjamin, which has 'one-way street', and i flip open and i read a bit of it. just a couple of sections. for example:

Mixed Cargo: Shipping and Packing

In the early morning I drove through Marseilles to the station, and as I passed familiar places on my way, and then new, unfamiliar ones or others that I remembered only vaguely, the city became a book in my hands, into which I hurriedly glanced a few last times before it passed from my sight for who knows how long into a warehouse crate.


so, anyhow, there you go.

it was a nice way to pass a couple of hours in my holiday. already books nudge me and say, hey, hey, what about me. a clockwork orange and kathy acker's books, for example. in fact, acker's books kick me for having such a long list of male writers. but that's how it is today. tomorrow, different. (of course, i won't put a list up tomorrow, but that's neither here nor there.)

Comments

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i_ate_my_crusts
Apr. 12th, 2004 11:16 pm (UTC)
I'm there with you for Fritz Lieber and Charles Bukowski.

You're tempting me to do my own 10 book list... argh, no!
benpeek
Apr. 13th, 2004 03:36 am (UTC)
well, zara, this is why i wrote the list, so people would write their own... it's sorta like spreading my seed, you know?
i_ate_my_crusts
Apr. 13th, 2004 11:27 pm (UTC)
Has anyone ever told you you can be terribly patronising?

That's a cimpliment, of sorts. I find sarcasm attractive. Call it a slight flaw in my character.

But I'm not going to do the ten books thing. Yet.

How's the thesis going?
benpeek
Apr. 13th, 2004 11:30 pm (UTC)
i've been told i'm many things: patronising (thou in this case i didn't mean too), sarcastic, cynical, unpleasant, funny, nasty, mean, and ugly. it's pretty much all true to different degrees.

my thesis is not a concern this week. it's the holidays. i'm ignoring it--haven't you noticed the increasing in livejournal posts? says 'has time to kill and is avoiding writing'.
rubybluenote
Apr. 16th, 2004 04:08 am (UTC)
Hallo there, Ben Peek...
Just thought I would drop you a line to say I've decided to befriend you. We appear to have (at least slightly) overlapping friends lists, and I love 5 out of the 10 literary items discussed in this post.

I haven't read another four of them.
benpeek
Apr. 16th, 2004 04:23 am (UTC)
well, hello there ruby. it's always nice to make new friend like people, so hi. *waves*

which four books haven't you read?
rubybluenote
Apr. 17th, 2004 11:40 pm (UTC)
the undertaking, the lankhmar series, darkness at noon, one-way street.

I've borrowed 'the undertaking' and will probably read some during procrastination-time later tonight -- as opposed to now, because I'm working reeeeeally hard on my PhD ;-)
benpeek
Apr. 18th, 2004 01:06 am (UTC)
working reeeeallly hard on those phds is what all phd students do :)

anyhow, i hope you like the book.
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